BMW X5 xDrive 30d M Sport

Can a sportier approach help BMW claim the big SUV crown?

The X5 represents a very different approach to building an SUV. While Land Rover makes off-road ability its top priority, BMW believes on-road dynamics are equally, if not more, important.

The difference between these opposing philosophies becomes obvious as soon as you line the two cars up side-by-side. The X5’s sloping roofline is a huge 111mm lower than the Land Rover’s, and it looks far more athletic as a result. The flared wheelarches and shapely bonnet complete the BMW’s purposeful look.

The M Sport model we tested comes with more visual clout: a bodykit, spoiler, twin exhausts and a contrasting silver finish for the familiar kidney grilles. It all differs sharply from the squared-off angles and tall stance of the Discovery 4. Our test car was fitted with winter tyres and 18-inch alloys – rather than the standard 19-inch wheels – and the smaller rims looked hopelessly lost in the car’s vast wheelarches.

Inside, you get heavily bolstered seats that sit much lower to the ground than those in the Land Rover. There’s still an excellent view of the road, but the driving position and dash echo the look and feel of BMW’s conventional saloon models.

There’s no questioning the X5’s build quality, plus the much-improved iDrive controller and large colour display make the infotainment system very easy to navigate. However, the bland cabin layout and dark materials are a little uninspiring after you spend time surrounded by the attractive detailing and tactile surfaces found in the Discovery 4.

The BMW is unable to match its rival for cabin space, either. Even though a flat transmission tunnel means there’s enough room to fit three adults in the back, as you can in the Discovery 4, the third row of seats is a £1,410 option and really only suitable for kids. With five seats in place, the BMW’s 620-litre boot trumps the 543-litre Land Rover for space. But if ultimate capacity is the target, its 1,750-litre maximum comes up short compared to the 2,558-litre Discovery 4.

It’s on a winding country road that this car really impresses, though. The steering is well weighted and the thick-rimmed wheel delivers lots of feedback, while the eight-speed gearbox responds faster than the Discovery 4’s, especially on quick downshifts. The straight-six engine pulls strongly across the entire rev range.

The BMW produces less power than the Land Rover, but weighs 508kg less. This had a dramatic effect in our performance tests, where it was more than a second quicker from 0-60mph and came to a stop 10 metres shorter in our 70-0mph braking trial.

The X5’s excellent body control means it feels more planted and stable through fast corners. It’s not as refined as the Discovery 4 – more road and wind noise can be heard in the cabin – but thanks to the smaller wheels, the ride is surprisingly compliant. The weight difference also had an effect at the pumps – we saw more than 30mpg in the BMW, compared to 22mpg in the Land Rover. So can its performance and efficiency help it to finally topple our class champion?


Chart position: 2WHY: Sporty off-roader is one of the best-handling SUVs around, and it uses an efficient and powerful diesel.

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